Top 7 To-Do List Mistakes and How to Overcome Them

26 Jan, 2023 | Read in 5 minutes

Discover the top 7 common mistakes people make with their to-do lists and learn how to overcome them for greater productivity.


Would you believe that Steve Jobs always made a to-do list every day? Have you ever wondered how he works on it?

In fact, instead of making a to-do list Steve Jobs made a stop-doing list. Actually, the concept is the same as a to-do list but has a different focus. Stop doing list means prioritising things that need to be done by not doing unimportant things. But we are not discussing a stop-doing list. We will discuss why your to-do list isn’t working.

Stop making to-do lists. They are just an annoying, non-urgent wish list. A set of tasks you want to complete but don't have a specific plan. Let's see how many list items are in it. Was it last week's to-do list or even two months ago?

According to Bailey Adam in The Busy Person’s Guide to The Done List, 41% of items on a to-do list are never completed. Then 50% was completed within a day of making a list. That means most of us don't complete to-do lists.

Some productivity experts said to break the to-do list into smaller things, making it even longer. It doesn't solve the problem.

What is a To-Do List?

Before going deeper, let's briefly remember the meaning of a to-do list. A to-do list is a list of tasks you want or need to complete. They have a short period, such as one day or one month. Typically, the list is ordered by priority scale for easy execution.

To-do lists do not have a specific format. You can make it with sticky notes and stick it on the desk or in digital form. The critical point is the execution, not creating a to-do list.

Benefits of a To-Do List

If the execution process is correct, it can bring many benefits. They can be a helpful external memory when forgetting. The to-do list also organises the brain's memory to refresh your mind. Here are some benefits you will experience when using a to-do list:

  • Become an external memory so you can run to it when needed. Human memory is limited, and you can't possibly remember many things simultaneously.
  • Have an idea of ​​what you should do. One day you have many activities and don't know where to start, so you need to look at the to-do list that has been arranged.
  • Life becomes organised and productive. Time is an unrepeatable entity. Sometimes we waste time on unimportant things. Making a to-do list is the first step in living an organised life.
  • Helping you to make planning and time management. You can plan your day.

7 To-Do List mistakes and how to overcome them

The most surprising thing about to-do lists is that adding items requires no effort. But to complete all of these items needs extra effort.

Meanwhile, the to-do list continues to evolve and grow. The bad news is that this list makes anxiety increase. People often get stressed, obsessed, and overwhelmed because their to-do lists go unfinished and instead pile up.

We all want to avoid that. The solution is simple, try to avoid the seven common mistakes in the to-do list below:

1. They don’t have deadlines

The first and most common mistake in making a to-do list is not setting a deadline. A to-do list without a deadline date is just plain notes. They will not function or help organise your tasks.

Tips: Make a to-do list with an application deadline. Choose a list format with the closest timeframe, such as a daily or weekly to-do list. This strategy will generate a sense of urgency, so there is no room for forgetting to procrastinate on unimportant things.

2. Never-ending list

The plot twist is that the longer the list, the more likely it is to fail. You should limit the number of items in each list to avoid never-ending lists. The limits will help you prioritise what to do, eliminate or have to wait.

Tips: Try to choose the three most important and urgent tasks. You must complete this task today, no matter what. How you force yourself to do this task gives an understanding that some things are unimportant. Remember, having a smaller list helps you achieve small wins.

3. Don’t know how to set priority tasks

The biggest mistake in making a to-do list is not prioritising tasks. The most important task is not the easiest or the most difficult. They must meet the criteria of the Eisenhower Matrix; important and urgent.


  1. Identify all the tasks you need to complete
  2. Arrange in the four quadrants below
  3. Try to place the item with the fewest number in each quadrant

Source: Todoist

4. The list that has mixed up goals and context

We have many daily activities. If specified in a notepad; you can write many things about work or personal, for example, meeting progress updates, completing designs or shopping monthly. So, separate tasks by category.

Not sorting assignments messes with your brain because of random and uncategorised information. The brain always tries to understand what needs to be done first or how to work efficiently. Therefore, separate professional and personal lists to ease the brain's work.

Tips: make a different list between work and domestic tasks. You can also distinguish the medium. For example, you make it on paper for household tasks, while for work, you use tools.

5. Miss the progress and don’t care about that

What do you do after ticking all the items on the to-do list? Just leave it? Or analyse the progress?

The key to understanding how you are growing is tracking progress. You can start by seeing how you complete your assignment. It will show you how efficiently you work and manage your time.

Tips: You can also use a time tracker to track progress.

6. Don’t know how to start when the list is ready

Starting the day with an inappropriate activity means ending up multitasking. We all understand that multitasking is bad. A Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance shows that multitasking is less efficient. Switching between tasks requires extra time to prepare and focus mentally.

Tips: Some people suggest starting with the most unpleasant task. It is similar to the concept of Eat the Frog by Mark Twain. When you complete the most challenging task at the beginning, you will enjoy completing the next task.

7. To-do lists make you anxious

Have you ever rewritten a to-do list? One of the reasons why to-do lists don't work is that you're confused and worried. You feel the task list continues to grow and never gets done.

Tips: Try a few different types of to-do list techniques. Try working by category or project. The point is to keep trying before finding the right strategy.


On this final line, you should understand that to-do lists should boost productivity. They are not tools for self-loathing, missing goals or emotional triggers. So if the strategy you are implementing isn't working optimally, try the seven tips above to fix it. Happy planning!


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